Insights on building and managing virtual teams


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Seven tips to facilitate the management of geographically dispersed teams

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Insights on building and managing virtual teams

  1. 1. Insights on building and managingvirtual teams March 2013 www .t hi s i sxy .c o m
  2. 2. X&Y Partners Insights on building and managing virtual teamsContacts:Cátia Cariascatia.carias@thisisxy.comUK: +44 (20) 3239 5245 | PT: +351 210 961 834Skype: xypartners 2
  3. 3. X&Y Partners Insights on building and managing virtual teamsInsights on building and managing virtual teamsSeven tips to facilitate the geographically dispersed teamsm anagem ent of geographically becomes more and moredispersed team s. commonplace. In this article we share seven suggestions to facilitate theThe last decades have been fertile in management of these virtual teams.producing an increasingly globalizedworld. Our network of friends is spread Albert Mehrabian, a pioneer inall over the globe. Facebook, Skype, communication research, stated that,Youtube, and countless other tools when communicating feelings andhelp us to stay connected. The work attitudes, only 7% of what we say isenvironment is no different: If you work conveyed by actual words: thefor a large organization, you probably remaining 93% is body language,find yourself dealing with colleagues volume and tone (Exhibit 2). This isfrom other countries on a daily basis. If particularly relevant for virtual teams,you work for a smaller local company, which are forced to communicate viachances are that at some point you will channels that do not convey bodyend up working together with remote language and paralinguisticbusiness partners. As economic characteristics well (e.g. telephone,activity becomes more and more email). This issue is often aggravateddispersed (Exhibit 1), working with by other factors, such as misalignedExhibit 1 – Evolution of the world GDP distribution for the 1960-2010 period, showing anincreased dispersion 3
  4. 4. X&Y Partners Insights on building and managing virtual teamsExhibit 2 – The Mehrabian equation provides insights on the weight that verbal, vocal andfacial elements have on communicationobjectives and lack of team bonding, have the coffee machine to stand bytrust or group identity. and chat, but this is still a vital part of your working together routine.At X&Y Partners we often manage or Promote an individual introduction atintegrate virtual teams, so we tend to the beginning of the assignment,deal with these issues on a daily basis. focusing both on professional andHere is what we have learned in the personal details. Make sure to checkprocess: on everyone at the beginning of each1. Get to know everyone call. See if there are any common interests around the “table” andWhether you are involved in a one- chitchat a bit about that. In short,week proposal or a multi-year create bonds.assignment, it is important to get toknow who is on the other end of the 2. Keep everyone in the loopcalls and email exchanges. This will Trust is key for establishing solidmake working together easier and business relationships and a goodmore fluid, while strengthening your working environment. Trust is oftenprofessional network, which is supported by a free flow of unbiasedsomething invaluable in doing information, which is something harderbusiness today (Exhibit 3). So take the to manage with virtual teams. Onetime to listen and learn things about possible solution lies in collaborativeyour virtual co-workers. You will not 4
  5. 5. X&Y Partners Insights on building and managing virtual teamsExhibit 3 – Graphical representation of my professional LinkedIn network. Lines areconnections and the different colors highlight different networks (e.g., university, companieswhere I worked before, friends)tools. For instance, you can use project, define milestones, make sureDropbox to share the latest versions of that all the tasks are properlythe documents, Google Docs to keep allocated, and confirm that everyonetrack of tasks, and Skype to speak has a common understanding on whatwhenever necessary (Exhibit 4), needs to be done, and by when. Usingmaking sure that everyone is always at tasks trackers (which can range from athe same page. Scheduling periodic simple spreadsheet with the tasks andteam calls is also important. Even if deadlines of each team member, tothere is not much to be discussed, this more sophisticated tools such ashelps keeping the pace of the project Microsoft Project) is a good way toand fosters a collaborative make sure everything is runningenvironment. Lastly, do not forget to according to plan.prepare and distribute clear and It is also important not to overrateactionable minutes after each call. teamwork. Structural issues need to3. Clearly allocate responsibilities be worked out by the whole team, but smaller decisions are often moreClearly allocating responsibilities is efficiently dealt with individually or incrucial for the success of any project, smaller groups. In other words, youeven more so when dealing with a should not create a working structurevirtual team. As a team manager it isyour responsibility to structure the 5
  6. 6. X&Y Partners Insights on building and managing virtual teamsExhibit 4 – Collaborative tools such as Google Docs, Skype and Dropbox, together with thevenerable email, are becoming increasingly more popularExhibit 5 – Percentage of English speakers by countrywhere the need for group consensus latent expectation that things willbecomes counterproductive. resolve themselves, but that is seldom the case. More often than not, you will4. Discuss controversial issues first end up under pressure to solvePostponing potentially controversial something that could have been dealtdiscussions happens more often that with more efficiently at the early stagesone likes to admit. There is usually a of the project. Furthermore, discussing 6
  7. 7. X&Y Partners Insights on building and managing virtual teamsearly on potentially controversial written notes, as it is often easier toissues also sets up a tone of trust and write opinions than to present them toopenness. an audience.5. Address language barriers You should also avoid parallel discussions in a language that not allIt is quite common to have people from of the team members speak, as thisdifferent nationalities in the same undermines trust and is consideredassignment, and although English is rude in many cultures.currently the lingua franca, it is not thenative language for the majority of us 6. Be diplomatic(Exhibit 5). Expressing yourself in a We all respond differently to aforeign language can be challenging, particular situation, depending on ourand can even inhibit people from individual personality traits. In a face-participating and contributing. It is to-face meeting, it is fairly easy to spotimportant to guarantee that everyone discomfort or uneasiness, but in virtualhas a chance to express his or her teams this is a harder thing to do. Onopinion, thus preventing native top of regular team calls, it is often aspeakers from dominating the good idea to have individual quickdiscussion. However, you should not chats with each team member, tobully someone into the discussion. ensure that there are no hidden issuesInstead, if you feel that someone is that can escalate later on. For longer-utterly unwilling to participate due to term assignments, it may belanguage barriers, try to ask for someExhibit 6 – The Meyers-Briggs Type (MBTI) is an indicator of how people perceive the worldand make decisions 7
  8. 8. X&Y Partners Insights on building and managing virtual teamsworthwhile to assess personalities discussion and provide feedback.(with a Meyers-Briggs test, for Besides general feedback to the wholeinstance – Exhibit 6) and use the team, you may also want to giveresults as a guidance to tailor your personal feedback to each of the teamapproach. members. As we discuss here, feedback is not about pointing fingers,7. Wrap-up and give feedback but rather an opportunity to discussAt the end of each interaction and what worked well and what can beparticularly at the end of the improved for the next assignment.assignment, always wrap-up the 8